Thursday, May 1, 2014

Procurement Hubs: Need for subsistence marketplaces

Located on the Lucknow - Sitapur national highway NH-24 is Ludhauli, a small village that serves as the procurement hub of fresh produce and milk for western part of Lucknow city. On numerous trips through this region, I would see farmers, wholesale buyers’ and fleet operators gathered in circles and conducting business.

My work on Post harvest losses led me to take a trip to Ludhauli, to see and understand the fresh produce value chain serving the city. I reached Ludhauli around 8 AM on a Sunday morning and noticed farmers’ bringing their fresh produce on mobikes, while labourers’ were carting heavier loads on the back of their bicycles. An odd milk producer had stacked several cans of milk on a cycle rickshaw and was lazily pedaling his way to the market.

The local chai shop had just got their first brew ready, and I was quick to order a hot and overly sweet chai to get my day started.  I strolled around the area and found fresh bottle gourds and plantains neatly stacked on cycle rickshaws. Nearby vendors were sorting okra by separating tender green okra from the yellow colored or insect-infected ones and bagged separately.  In the next stall, vendors were busy sorting eggplants by separating the dark colored eggplants from the light colored ones. Bags of tender fresh bitter gourds, bunches of green plantains, heaps of string beans and bright red tomatoes were a sight to see. Vendors could be seen dressing up their stalls while others were relaxing after setting up their merchandise. Some of the old guard that was late in picking up a spot could be seen jostling for space with the younger generation. I witnessed a farmer sell his produce and happily pocket his earnings. The saunter in his walk after making the sale was proof that he was happy with the transaction.

A walk around nearby stalls clearly showed that vendors preferred to setup stalls by the roadside. One stall had all green fresh produce; bottle gourds, bitter gourds, chillies, mint leaves, green pumpkins, string beans, okra and white radish. Labourers’ were busy packing fresh produce in nylon bags and covering the top with leaves. Packed goods were then loaded on to small pick-up trucks and three-wheeler tempos for Navin mandi, in Dubagga, Lucknow. The area was now bustling with activity and the local confectionary shop had opened with display of red jalebis and samosas. A push cart vendor pedaling chana chat was selling like hotcakes.

A few feet away from the national highway road, were two inconspicuous industrial sheds built for these vendors to transact their sales. The superstructure of the sheds was intact, but weeds and shrubs had grown all around the structure. The steel beams in one of the shed had succumbed to rust and seemed to be a popular resting place for stray dogs and vagabonds. I wondered if there was a reason behind constructing these sheds and if so, what could the possible causes behind its neglect. Answers to this question had as many answers, depending on whom you spoke to. A few transport operators complained that there were no public toilets and that farmers chased them when they went to the fields. By now, people had started taking notice of my camera and were mistaking me for a member of the press. A few individuals were turning hostile with my queries and I decided to wrap up my visit before things got out of hand.

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